As the 2015 NFL draft approaches, franchises are putting the highest premium on character ever. The traumas that Aaron Hernandez, Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson created for their teams sent a chill up the spine of NFL front office executives.
When a player is disqualified for a season or his career for off-the-field issues the consequences can be disastrous for a team. The team loses the part of the signing bonus that is apportioned to the games or years missed, and that amortized bonus counts against the cap. This means that the team not only loses the services of the player, but also there is then not enough cap available to adequately replace him.
Predicting the propensity of a draftee to have later issues with behavior is a process fraught with peril. Team investigators are sifting through investigations into prospective draftees past behavior all the way back to elementary school days. They are interviewing friends and coaches to get a full picture. They do exhaustive searches for arrests or charges. If a player has incidents in his past it still doesn't mean he will not have a productive career. He may have learned from his problems and straightened out his behavior. But what if he is a ticking time bomb?
Is there an objective ability to test for future difficulties? Dave Blanchard of the Og Mandino group has tested players with a psychological protocol that has been effective in spotting problematic tendencies. This gives teams a chance to either avoid drafting a player, or to take him understanding there is extra work and caution needed. Having an effective diagnostic tool is critical.
There are a number of players with red flags from their past, and it will be interesting to see how it affects the players' draft status. Florida State QB Jameis Winston carries incidents involving alleged sexual assault, theft and campus disruption in his past. For Tampa Bay, this is a make or break draft and they have done extensive due diligence in projecting Winston as a pro.
Nebraska DE Randy Gregory tested positive for marijuana at the combine. The presence of drugs in a draftee's system at the combine is seen as a test also of IQ and discipline. USC cornerback Josh Shaw falsified a story about his injured ankle where he claimed to be rescuing a drowning relative by jumping off a balcony. Washington CB Marcus Peters had problems with the coaching staff and left the program. Oklahoma WR Dorial Green-Beckham has past allegations of violence against women.
At the scouting combine, teams have the opportunity to conduct interview sessions with a player and their coaches and general managers. Teams can fly up to 30 players in for visits this month. There is ample opportunity to ask players to explain their pasts. Adolescence is a time where we all have made less than stellar decisions. We don't want to throw young men on the trash heap of history for an incident they have made amends for and learned from. Behavioral prediction is a tricky proposition -- this is the most scrutinized group of draftees in the history of the NFL. No one wants to make a mistake.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.